Peta Jones Pellach
Teacher and activist in Jerusalem

Ben Gvir was Right

No pun intended. The extreme right-wing politician wears the badge with pride.

This time, I have reluctantly to concede that he was right-correct.

When Ben Gvir spoke at the memorial for Meir Kahane last month, he was not mistaken.

The previously disgraced and now, in some people’s eyes, rehabilitated Meir Kahane, who was banned from the Knesset for racism, did do what he did out of love for the Land of Israel – the land, not the people. I think that many of those who follow him are differently motivated.

For Kahane, the Land of Israel was more precious than the people of Israel or the Torah of Israel. If mitzvot such as pursuing peace impeded conquest of the Land, they had to be side-lined. He ignored the aspects of the Biblical Covenant that warn that if we do not behave with justice and compassion in the Land, we are destined to lose it. He was single-minded, obsessive, some would say idolatrous, when it came to conquest of the land.

He believed that he knew what the Land needed: it needed the Jews and only the Jews. Kahane and today’s Kahanists share the view that Arabs cannot love the Land the way we do or be part of the Jewish mission to transform the Land and therefore they have no place here.

Like Kahane, the extreme right today conveniently ignore the Jewish (Torah) calls for justice, the instruction to make peace between the people and with the surrounding nations, the importance of being conscious of how our activities reflect on our religion and thus on the Creator (kiddush Hashem), and the Torah commandment of “one law for the citizens and all the residents of the Land” (Leviticus 24:22 et al).

But unlike Kahane, who was blinded by his obsession with the Land, his followers today have other motivations, too. They want power. They want to change this State into their version of a state governed by religious law – their version of religious law. They see the bigger picture of what it takes to seize power and have worked for years to implement their plan to change Israel into a monolithic super-power, unaffected by the way we are perceived, untouched by others and reliant only on ourselves – with men just like themselves at the helm.

However repugnant Kahane was in his time, today’s Kahanists are more dangerous because they have understood that our democracy is flawed and know how it can be manipulated.

They call their opponents “anarchists” because the term strikes fear in many. However, they are the anarchists. They plan to dismantle the infrastructure of democracy by undermining the very basis of rule of law. In their election campaign, they focused on the courts, which have had oversight to make sure that any law the Knesset passes is legal within the terms that the Knesset itself has composed. Their claim that the legal system is somehow outside democracy shows either great ignorance about the separation of powers, essential to a functioning democracy, or a conscious effort to mislead the population, most of whom have no education about politics at all. If the parliament can pass any law it wants, with no regard to the basic laws, values, principles or international commitments of the country, that is not democracy; it is anarchy. The courts are the final barrier.

In parallel, they are undermining the army. Any army relies on a chain of command. By siding with the “ordinary foot-soldier” over their commanders, they are threatening the system entirely. No army can function if there is no willingness to follow orders – if soldiers take their instructions from political figures and not from within the army’s leadership, subject to clear rules of conduct. That is anarchy.

And after the phase of anarchy, the strong man steps in and restores order. That is the right-wing vision.

When the election results were announced, a newly elected politician said in a radio interview, “Why is it that after the left has a political victory, right-wingers stay here and fight for the next election but when the right is elected, left-wingers threaten to leave the country? Surely they have enough faith in the system and love for the country [emphasising the last phrase] to stay here.”

Perhaps it is because no left-wing or centre government here has ever threatened to undo all the good in this country – the diversity, the freedoms, the care for one another and even the citizen army, which has mostly risen above its horrible circumstances to behave morally – and change Israel from a true democracy to their version of theocracy.

I never thought I would say it, but I am putting my faith in Netanyahu. Despite his current legal issues, which put the spotlight on his arrogance and his greed, he does want to preserve the basic character of Israel. He may have manipulated a flawed democracy but he does not want to discard it. He might be willing to cede his principles for power but he does it within the system and not with any thoughts of abandoning the system.

I am not packing my bags just yet. Israel will come to her senses. There are enough honest, just, sensible people here, including in positions of authority, to protect this democracy.

Ben Gvir was right – as he promised, he could convince thousands of people to vote for him. But his values are wrong and soon it will be clear just how wrong he is.

About the Author
A fifth generation Australian, Peta made Aliyah in 2010. She is Senior Fellow of the Kiverstein Institute, Director of Educational Activities for the Elijah Interfaith Institute, secretary of the Jerusalem Rainbow Group for Jewish-Christian Encounter and Dialogue, a co-founder of Praying Together in Jerusalem and a teacher of Torah and Jewish History. She has visited places as exotic as Indonesia and Iceland to participate in and teach inter-religious dialogue. She also broadcasts weekly on SBS radio (Australia) with the latest news from Israel. Her other passions are Scrabble and Israeli folk-dancing.